Part 2: Advice from a Kalispell Divorce Lawyer: What Happens at a Hearing/Trial for a Montana Divorce?Marybeth Sampsel
Over the next several weeks, I will be posting a series of entries regarding what occurs at Montana divorce or parenting trials and hearings. For more information, see Part 1 of this series. Today’s blog post focuses on the UNCONTESTED HEARING, also know as the SHOW CAUSE HEARING.
Uncontested or “show cause” hearings are very brief hearings that allow the court to determine what other procedural steps may need to be taken and to put short-term relief into place. There are two divorce/parenting situations where uncontested/show cause hearings are most often seen, though a show cause hearing could be held on nearly any motion. The first common reason a show cause hearing is held is in cases where an Order of Protection is sought. In Flathead County (and this generally should happen throughout Montana), a show cause hearing is set within twenty days of issuance of a temporary order of protection. Show cause hearings are also scheduled any time an ex parte motion is filed – often seen when one party is seeking an ex parte interim parenting plan. “Ex parte” is fancy Latin term, which really means that one side is seeking a decision from a judge before the judge has the opportunity to hear from both parties. Ex parte matters should be reserved for emergency situations, thoughthat is not always the case.
If both parties appear at the hearing, the Judge will first determine if the matter is “contested.” Contested means that the parties do not agree on what the Judge should do. For example, one party may have asked for a temporary order of protection, but the other party denies that an order of protection is necessary. Because the parties do not agree, the matter is considered contested.
If it becomes clear that the matter is not contested, the Court will generally put into place what the parties agreed upon. If a party contests a matter but does not show up to the hearing, the Court will generally grant the relief requested by the moving party (i.e. the person that filed the motion).
If the matter is contested, the court generally has three options available:
(1) If the court has already granted some sort of short-term relief (i.e. a temporary order of protection or interim parenting plan), the Judge may decide to keep that relief in place. Then, a contested hearing will be scheduled so that the parties can present evidence and testimony to the court; or
(2) The court may change the short-term relief that had previously been requested. For example, if the court issued a temporary order of protection on an ex parte basis, but then became aware of additional information that changes the court’s opinion, the Judge may put different short-term relief into place. Then, a contested hearing will be set; or
(3) The court could also order the parties to engage in some sort of dispute resolution before a contested hearing will be set. For example, the Judge could require the parties attend mediation, obtain a guardian ad litem, etc. Generally, the court will require that order be complied with before a contested hearing will be scheduled, but that is not always the case.
Because show cause hearings are scheduled very quickly and often on an emergency basis, the Judge will likely not have the opportunity to have a full-blown hearing. In other words, the show cause hearing is to put a band-aid in place until the Judge has the opportunity to have a hearing where evidence can be submitted and testimony can be heard. Show cause hearings are very brief and are simply not lengthy enough for a party to present their entire case. Even though show cause hearings are generally very short, I strongly urge anyone attending a show cause hearing to be prepared and have all their information and evidence available in the event the Judge has time to hear the case.